Verbalize by @DamonSuede and Damn Fine Story by @ChuckWendig #bookreview #amreading

Today we’re going to discuss two books on writing craft that, in my opinion, genre writers should read.

First up is VERBALIZE by Damon Suede.

But first, the Blurb:

Fascinating fiction starts with characters who make readers care. This Live Wire Writer Guide presents a simple, effective technique to sharpen your hook, charge your scenes, and amplify your voice whether you’re a beginner or an expert.

Most writing manuals skirt craft questions with gimmicks and quick fixes rather than plugging directly into your story’s power source. Energize your fiction and boost your career with

  • a new characterization method that jumpstarts drafting, crafting, revision, and pitching.
  • skill-builders to intensify language, stakes, and emotion for your readers.
  • battle-tested solutions for common traps, crutches, and habits.
  • a dynamic story-planning strategy effective for plotters and pantsers.
  • ample examples and exercises to help you upgrade fiction in any genre.

Blast past overused tics and types with storycraft that busts your ruts and awes your audience. Whether you like to wing it or bring it, Verbalize offers a fresh set of user-friendly, language-based tools to populate your pages and lay the foundations of unforgettable genre fiction.

My Review:

Damon Suede is a writing craft educator and a best-selling Romance author. One thing he understands is how to write active prose. VERBALIZE is jammed with hard-hitting, rapid-fire information, just like his seminars.

This is a book with a lot going on visually as well as informationally. I find it easiest to absorb this information in small doses, which allows me to think about what he is saying. I read a bit, think a bit, and write a lot.

If you learn nothing else, what Suede has to say about verbs, their importance in character development, and how best to place them in the sentence is worth the cost of the book. Which, by the way, is quite affordable.

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Next up is Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig. Wendig understands the art of “Story.” If you are writing genre fiction, this is a book you should consider buying.

But first, The Blurb:

Hook Your Audience with Unforgettable Storytelling!

What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common?

Simply put, we care about them.

Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.

Using a mix of personal stories, pop fiction examples, and traditional storytelling terms, New York Times best-selling author Chuck Wendig will help you internalize the feel of powerful storytelling. In Damn Fine Story, you’ll explore:

• Freytag’s Pyramid for visualizing story structure–and when to break away from traditional storytelling forms
• Character relationships and interactions as the basis of every strong plot—no matter the form or genre
• Rising and falling tension that pulls the audience through to the climax and conclusion of the story
• Developing themes as a way to craft characters with depth
Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, comic, or even if you just like to tell stories to your friends and family over dinner, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.

My Review:

As a writing craft book junkie, I can’t walk past any book that purposes to discuss the dirty little habit of writing.

Chuck Wendig is well-known for his pithy way of expressing things, but despite the in-your-face rawness of his delivery, he does know how to tell a great story, and he does it with outrageous hilarity.

This book takes the writer beyond the essentials of writing craft (grammar, sentence structure, etc.) and into the deeper elements of storytelling, rhythm, cadence, and breaking the rules adored by the more fascist writing-group gurus. He does this to encourage you to develop your own storytelling style.

I highly recommend it. You’ll get your money back in the wildly sarcastic humor of the footnotes alone.

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These two books are just the tip of the informational iceberg.

Many fine, informative books are out there for writers, and while I don’t have them all, I have a large library of them, all in physical book form.

My shelves contain books on craft by authors like Ursula K. LeGuin, Orson Scott Card, and Stephen King. I have thesaurus(s) on emotions and character traits by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

Knowledge of grammar is the silver frame that shows a story in its best light.

I have numerous Chicago Style Manuals and Bryan Garner’s Usage Guides, and books on rhetorical grammar. Dictionaries, sure, and a thesaurus—but I rely on the Oxford Book of Synonyms and Antonyms to help me find my words. Believe me, that book is well used.

Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers is a foundation book in my library—I’ve worn out two copies and am on my third.

Books on writing craft feed my ongoing quest for self-education.

Serious writers have questions that won’t always be answered in writing groups or on blogs like mine, but books exist which do have the answers.

Some will be expensive, but many, such as the two featured books today, are affordable. Google your writing craft questions, and see what books come up that might answer them. You might strike gold, as I have often done.

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Prepping for November #amwriting #NaNoWriMo2019

November is National Novel Writing Month. Every year starting on November 1st, several hundred thousand people sit down and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days.

Most will do this while holding down jobs and raising kids.

I began participating in NaNoWriMo in 2010. For the first four years, 2010 – 2014, I used the month of November to lay down the rough draft of an intended novel. However, in 2015, I already had two novels in the final stages and one simmering on the back burner.

What I lacked that year were short stories. I decided to write a short story collection because I knew I had to build my backlog of submittable work. As a result, and despite suffering a respiratory virus during the entire month of November, I wrote 42 short stories for a total of 105,000 words.

That’s not counting the blog posts I also wrote. NaNoWriMo 2015 was a prolific year despite the plague!

That was such a boost to my short story collection that I did the same in 2016 and 2017. I worked on a novel in 2018 and also wrote short stories, so that was a “blender” year.

My first year, 2010, was difficult in many ways. My story arc wandered all over the place, my main character sometimes disappeared for several chapters, and my hokey prose got away from me.

But that year was a great experience. I learned how to prep for the month of madness so that it can be a productive 30 days. I learned that October is an important month, even though you aren’t writing for official word count.

October, cold and dark, is your NaNo Prep Month.

I have a number of tricks I will share with you each Monday during the month of October, all aimed toward helping you succeed at your writing goal during National Novel Writing Month.

My goal is that on November 1st, you will be able to hit the ground running.

Once I have the foundations laid, I can write off the cuff. That is how three of my books came into existence.

For many participants, the challenge of sitting down and using the “seat of your pants” style of creative writing is what draws them to sign up.

Many authors are unwilling to commit to NaNoWriMo because it takes discipline to write 1667 words a day.

Also, they fear having to recoup any perceived losses should they find themselves in the middle of NaNoWriMo when they suddenly realize they’ve gone terribly astray. Or they fear writers’ block.

It happens.

Not to me usually, because I know the secret: If you can’t write on the subject you intended, write about what you are experiencing and what interests you at that moment.

I know; ranting on paper about your life is not writing that fabulous fantasy novel you began but don’t know how to finish.

But you are writing!

The answers will come, sometimes in the middle of a rant about your evil mother-in-law.

The key here is you will be writing, and that is what is important.

Rule 1 of NaNoWriMo: SIT DOWN AND WRITE.

Rule 2: WRITE AT LEAST 1667 WORDS EVERY DAY.

Rule 3: NEVER DELETE WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN, NO MATTER HOW GARBLED OR AWFUL OR OFF TOPIC.

There are 2 ways to create the official manuscript that you use to upload to the national site every day.

  1. Type it all in one document. When you don’t like something, just change the font color to red in that section and begin rewriting the scene the way it SHOULD have been written in the first place, using the usual black font. Every time you rewrite the scene with a slightly different outcome, it counts toward your word count. Your official wordcount manuscript will be a lo-o-o-ong, multicolored thing of beauty for a few weeks.
  2. OR, you can write each new section in a new file but paste all of them into the official manuscript at the end of your writing session. I make notes as I go for my later rewrite because if I don’t leave a message for myself, I will forget until my beta reader (who is a structural genius) points it out.

December is “Read-‘em-and-Weep” month. That is when we go over the ramblings of November and doubt our sanity.

In December, save what you want to discard in a ‘Background File’ in the same folder as the main manuscript. By doing that, you don’t lose prose you may need later.

During National Novel Writing Month, every word we write over and above 50,000 counts toward the region’s total word count. Once I hit that mark, I keep plowing ahead right to the bitter end.

Other people stop when they make the official winning word count. It’s a stressful month, so how you handle it is your choice.

If you want to sign up for this year’s month of madness and mayhem, get on the internet and go to:

www.nanowrimo.org

Sign up, pick a NaNo name – mine is Dragon_Fangirl, and you are in business. Look me up and make me one of your writing buddies. Spend the rest of October organizing what you think you will need to begin your story on November first. Then, on the first day of November you begin writing. If you apply yourself, and write (AT the minimum) 1667 words every day, on the 30th of November you should have a novel…or something.

In reality, if you set aside one or two hours a day, and pound out the words as fast as you can during that time, you will get your word count. Never delete, and do not self-edit as you go along. Just spew words, misspelled and awkward as they may be. They all count, readable or not, and it is the discipline of writing that we are working on here, not the nuts and bolts of the good manuscript.

Revising and correcting gross mistakes will come after November 30th. The second draft is when you have time to look at it with a critical eye. What you are doing now is getting the raw ideas down before you forget them.

Never discard your work no matter how much your first reader says it stinks. Even if what you wrote is the worst crap she ever read, some of it will be worth saving and reusing later. (And don’t ask “Sharp Tongue Sally” to read your work again because if she can’t find at least one good thing, she’s not a good beta reader.)

Spending a month immersed in stream-of-consciousness writing is not a waste of time. You will definitely have something to show for your efforts, and you will have developed the most important skill a writer must have: self-discipline.

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#FineArtFriday: The Parable of the Rich Fool by Rembrandt ca. 1627

  • By Rembrandt  (1606–1669)
  • Title: The Parable of the Rich Fool
  • Genre: religious art
  • Date: 1627  Monogram and date bottom left: RH. 1627.
  • Medium: oil on oak panel
  • Dimensions: Height: 31.9 cm (12.5 ″); Width: 42.5 cm (16.7 ″)

 

Rembrandt’s early career focused on religious paintings, which were well received by influential patrons. Today’s featured painting, The Parable of the Rich Fool, is one of his early works, from the time when he shared a studio with Jan Lievens.

 

About this parable, via Wikipedia:

The rich farmer in this parable is portrayed negatively, as an example of greed.  By replacing his existing barn, he avoids using agricultural land for storage purposes, thus maximizing his income, as well as allowing him to wait for a price increase before selling. St. Augustine comments that the farmer was “planning to fill his soul with excessive and unnecessary feasting and was proudly disregarding all those empty bellies of the poor. He did not realize that the bellies of the poor were much safer storerooms than his barns.”


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Parable of the Rich Fool,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Parable_of_the_Rich_Fool&oldid=912095443

(accessed September 27, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt – The Parable of the Rich Fool.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_-_The_Parable_of_the_Rich_Fool.jpg&oldid=354111849

(accessed September 27, 2019).

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What I’ve learned from Miguel Cervantes #amreading

In the book we know familiarly as Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes wrote a brilliant, enduring story, one that has survived intact since it was first published in 1605.

Cervantes himself had a fantastic history, a story which could have been written as a novel.

Born in 1547 to an impoverished Spanish doctor, Miguel was better educated than many of his time, although exactly where he was educated is not known. He joined the army at twenty-one.

In 1575, pirates kidnapped Cervantes and his brother and sold them as slaves to the Moors. Originally from Morocco, the Moors were Muslims and were the longtime adversaries of Catholic Spain, which they had once conquered.

History says Cervantes was taken to Algiers. His three or four attempts to escape his slavery were unsuccessful, but finally, he was ransomed in 1580 and returned to Spain.

Upon gaining his freedom, he worked in many clerical capacities, notably as a purchasing agent for the Spanish navy (i.e., the Spanish King). His unfortunate trust in an Andalucían banker with whom he had deposited Crown funds led to his imprisonment for a few months in Seville, after said banker went bankrupt.

It was during his stay in prison that the story of Don Quixote was born. All his life, Cervantes had to work a day job to support himself, writing at night and whenever he had the chance. Prison offered him the chance to spend his entire day writing.

In Don Quixote, Cervantes took many risks with vocabulary. He had as immense an effect on the Spanish language as William Shakespeare did English.

Sayings you might hear every day that were coined by Cervantes:

  • By a small sample we may judge of the whole piece.
  • Can we ever have too much of a good thing?
  • No limits but the sky.
  • Why do you lead me a wild-goose chase?
  • Thank you for nothing.
  • Let every man mind his own business.
  • The pot calls the kettle black.

Only in the final ten years of his life did Cervantes achieve literary success, and even then, he struggled to support himself.

Cervantes divided Don Quixote into three sections, each with a different perspective:

In the first section of the First Part, which covered Don Quixote’s first expedition, he wrote a parody of contemporary romance tales. Cervantes tells this section in a straightforward style.

The second section (comprising the rest of the First Part) is written as if it were a historical account. Here, Cervantes tells us he’s merely translating the manuscript of Cide Hamete Benengeli. He often breaks the fourth wall, interrupting the narrative to mention Benengeli. He remarks on the “internal inconsistencies” in Benengeli’s manuscript. It is broken into chapters at intervals, and Cervantes records the events of each of Don Quixote’s days.

The third section (which covers the Second Part of the novel) is different. It was written as a traditional novel might be. Emotions, large themes, and strong character development are features of this section. Here, Cervantes has gotten a grip on the story arc and the characters.

It is in this third section that Cervantes himself enters the novel as a character. He casts himself as a synthesis of the fictional Benengeli and Cervantes the author.

This is a morality tale. The character Don Quixote strives to be an example, becoming a knight-errant as a way to force his contemporaries to face their failures. In his eyes, they have abandoned the traditions of morality and the chivalric code.

This conflict between tradition and modern values becomes a stalemate. No one understands Don Quixote, and he understands no one.

Only Sancho, his good-hearted, loyal friend can intercede between Don Quixote and the rest of the world. Yet, Sancho, a modern man of the peasant class (and with his own agenda) has a basic understanding of morality. He alone is able to interpret for Don Quixote, acting as a mediator. Sancho quite often agrees with the morals of his day but then surprises us by supporting Don Quixote’s outdated ethics and chivalry.

Toward the end is where it gets a bit out of hand. The characters are aware of the books that have been written about them. They try to alter the content of subsequent editions. This complicates things mightily. At times, we readers feel as disoriented as the mad knight, unable to tell which plotlines are internal to the story and which are factual.

I believe that disorientation was intentional on the author’s part.

I’ve learned several things from Cervantes’s wonderful story of the mad knight, Don Quixote, but I will explore only two.

First, its clear that minor flaws will be ignored by the reader if the story is compelling enough. It was so wildly popular in its day that it inspired publication of an unauthorized continuation, a true fan fiction written by an unknown writer who masqueraded under the name of Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda.

It’s unclear if Cervantes knew the true identity of the superfan. But he wasn’t amused; indeed, he went to great lengths to write “the true continuation of the story,” mocking and poking fun at the fanfiction in many places in his work.

Second, my belief that charismatic characters and epic conflicts of morality make a great story was reinforced.

Cervantes challenged the notion that social class and worth were entwined. He shows that Nobility of Birth does not necessarily confer wisdom or kindness. In the Duke and Duchess, he gives us thoughtless cruelty, casually delivered purely for its entertainment value. In the peasant, Sancho, he shows us a wise, kind, and thoughtful man. In the shepherds, he gives us philosophers.

I’m not suggesting you have to read modern translations of classic Spanish literature. I do suggest you read something new every day, though. Reading a variety of genres opens our eyes to new ideas and widens our minds.

Reading makes us better writers.

It was this laying bare of the disparity between social class and human worth that made Don Quixote such a revolutionary work in its time. This is also why it endures today as one of the foundations of the Western Literary Canon.

I highly recommend Edith Grossman’s modern translation, which was published in 2003. For those of you who feel you’re too impatient to read literary fiction, this wonderful version is available as an audio book.

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The well-rounded villain #amwriting

One character archetype that is critical to any story is the villain. Christopher Vogler, in his brilliant book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, shows us how the villain of a piece represents the shadow. They are the character who shows us the energy of the dark side, and whose influence on the protagonist must be fully explored.

The shadow character serves several purposes.

  • He/she is usually the main antagonist and represents the darkness, which opposes the light.
  • The shadow provides the roadblocks, the reason the protagonist must struggle.

The shadow represents our own darker side. Great villains bring ethical and moral dilemmas to the story, offering us food for thought. The hero may recognize the darkness within herself and struggle to take the higher road.

The best stories are when the protagonist must face and overcome the shadow on a deeply personal level as well as succeeding at the quest. This places her in true danger.

The best shadow-characters are multidimensional. Great villains have many layers, and not all of them bad.

Characters portrayed as evil for the sake of drama can be cartoonish. Layers must support their actions, or the villain is not believable.

I think of these two-dimensional villains as little “Skeletors.” Skeletor is a cartoon villain with one of the least believable storylines.

Skeletor has great passion and drive, but it’s all noise and show. His ostensible quest is to conquer Castle Grayskull so he can obtain its ancient secrets. Possession of these would make him unstoppable, allowing him to conquer the world of Eternia.

But his character is hollow, and his storyline is simply one long declaration of his villainy. In reality, Skeletor’s sole purpose is to give He-Man a reason to draw his mighty sword and proclaim, “I have the power!”

It was a fun cartoon, but these characters were originally conceived as a means of selling toys.

From Wikipedia:

In the illustrated books released with the first series of toys, He-Man was a barbarian from an Eternian tribe. The planet’s inhabitants were dealing with the aftermath of the Great Wars, which devastated the civilizations which once ruled supreme. The wars left behind advanced machinery and weaponry, known only to select people. An early incarnation of the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull gave He-Man some of these weapons, and he set out to defend the secrets of Castle Grayskull from the evil Skeletor.

He-Man possessed one-half of the Power Sword; Skeletor had the second half, and used it as his main weapon. When joined, the two halves of the Power Sword will provide the key to Castle Grayskull (this is why the two figures’ swords could combine into one, when the action figures were initially released). In one early illustrated story, He-Man and Skeletor united their two Power Sword halves to form the true Power Sword, defeating a common enemy.

(…) By the time the animated series was developed, He-Man’s origins had been revised: his true identity was Prince Adam of Eternia, son of King Randor and Queen Marlena (an earthling), who ruled the Kingdom of Eternia on the planet of the same name. The Sorceress of Castle Grayskull endowed Prince Adam with the power to transform into He-Man, which Adam did by raising his Power Sword and proclaiming, “By the power of Grayskull…” Once the transformation was complete, he continued “…I have the power!”.

What is your goal? Are you selling toys? If so, a token villain serves the purpose. However, if  writing a memorable story, you need a character with history.

Great villains have deep stories. They may have begun life as unpleasant people and even may be sociopaths, but they become “evil” through a series of formative steps. No one wakes up some morning and says, I am evil. I will now go out, gather some minions, and do evil things.”

Look at one of the greatest villains of all time, a character who represents the worst humanity can offer: Hannibal Lector: (via Wikipedia)

In The Silence of the Lambs, Lecter’s keeper, Dr. Frederick Chilton, claims that Lecter is a “pure sociopath” (“pure psychopath” in the film adaptation). In the film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs, protagonist Clarice Starling says of Lecter, “They don’t have a name for what he is.”

Lecter’s pathology is explored in greater detail in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, which explains that he was traumatized as a child in Lithuania in 1944 when he witnessed the murder and cannibalism of his beloved sister, Mischa, by a group of deserting Lithuanian Hilfswillige, one of whom claimed that Lecter unwittingly ate his sister as well.

Villains must have a back story to explain their villainy or a quest that is as important to the story as the Hero’s quest.

In the Tower of Bones series, light and dark (good and evil) are represented through two different theologies. Both societies believe in the righteousness of their gods. Both have rituals they perform to appease their deities. The people of both worlds believe firmly that their way and their deity is the only true way.

When we write a story, we want the protagonist’s struggle to mean something to the reader. We put them through hell and make their lives a misery. The characters in our stories aren’t going through the horrible trials alone. The moment we begin the story, we are dragging the reader along for the ride.

We owe it to our readers to give them rounded, believable characters, hero or villain.

What turned the villain to the darkness? What events gave them the strength and courage to rise above the past, twisted though they are? What drives their agenda? What do they hope to achieve?

We who write novels can’t offer the reader hollow, cartoonish characters. If we don’t give the shadow hints of depth, we have failed.

We must make their ultimate victory evoke great relief in the reader, joy that all is made right.

The reader has survived, and the victory is as much theirs as it is the hero’s.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “He-Man,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=He-Man&oldid=916702029 (accessed September 22, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Hannibal Lecter,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hannibal_Lecter&oldid=916951188 (accessed September 22, 2019).

Skeletor-spoo: Fair Use, for identification of and critical commentary on the television program and its contents. DVD screen capture from the She-Ra: Princess of Power episode “Gateway to Trouble,” where Skeletor is offered a bowl of Spoo. Wikipedia contributors, “He-Man,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=He-Man&oldid=916702029 (accessed September 22, 2019).

Imogen by Herbert Gustav Schmalz PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

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#FineArtFriday: Landscape with the Parable of the Sower by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1552

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder  (1526/1530–1569)

Title: Landscape with the Parable of the Sower

Genre: religious art

Date: 1552

Medium: oil on panel

Dimensions: Height: 74 cm (29.1 ″); Width: 102 cm (40.1 ″)

What I love about this painting:

Pieter Brugel the Elder was one of my first influences in the world of art appreciation. What always strikes me about his work is the innocent joy he infused in his art. This particular painting has a delicate, almost watercolor feel to it.

In this piece, the color of the river is the unique shade of blue that appears in his other works.

The parable he illustrates (via Wikipedia):

In the (Biblical) story, a sower sows seed and does so indiscriminately. Some seed falls on the path (wayside) with no soil, some on rocky ground with little soil, and some on soil which contained thorns. In these cases the seed is taken away or fails to produce a crop, but when it falls on good soil it grows, yielding thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold.

Jesus then (only in the presence of his disciples) explains that the seed represents the Gospel (the sower being anyone who proclaims it), and the various soils represent people’s responses to it (the first three representing rejection while the last represents acceptance).

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Pieter Bruegel (also Brueghel or Breughelthe Elder (/ˈbrɔɪɡəl/, also US: /ˈbruːɡəl, ˈbrɜːɡəl/, Dutch: [ˈpitər ˈbrøːɣəl] c. 1525–1530 – 9 September 1569) was the most significant artist of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting, a painter and printmaker from Brabant, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes (so-called genre painting); he was a pioneer in making both types of subject the focus in large paintings.

He was a formative influence on Dutch Golden Age painting and later painting in general in his innovative choices of subject matter, as one of the first generation of artists to grow up when religious subjects had ceased to be the natural subject matter of painting. He also painted no portraits, the other mainstay of Netherlandish art. After his training and travels to Italy, he returned in 1555 to settle in Antwerp, where he worked mainly as a prolific designer of prints for the leading publisher of the day. Only towards the end of the decade did he switch to make painting his main medium, and all his famous paintings come from the following period of little more than a decade before his early death, when he was probably in his early forties, and at the height of his powers.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. 030.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Pieter_Bruegel_d._%C3%84._030.jpg&oldid=356083009 (accessed September 20, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Pieter Bruegel the Elder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder&oldid=915292603 (accessed September 20, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Parable of the Sower,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Parable_of_the_Sower&oldid=907267798 (accessed September 20, 2019).

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Defiance, by Lee French #amreading

I talk a lot about the books I read. I read in a wide variety of genres, and sometimes I get hung up on one particular author for a while. So, while I gravitate to literary and fantasy, I also devour women’s fiction, sci-fi, poetry–you name it, I read it.

I have several grandchildren who are young teenagers, so when I hear about a good YA (young adult) book, I read it. Then I can make informed recommendations to them.

If I feel strongly enough about the quality of the story, I purchase the books for them.

Forcing a gift on the grandchildren obligates my little darlings to read. Once they start, no matter how unwilling they are at first, they become hooked.

The Harper Revolution series by Lee French is one I buy for them. Defiance is a prequel to Porcelain and explores characters whose stories will join Emma’s in book four. (I read this on the author’s website.)

Abbie Park’s story is one of bravery, compassion, and loyalty. She is proud of her heritage but has avoided the family’s dojang since the sudden death of her father. Still, the training and discipline her uncle guides her with have made her into a strong young woman.

When aliens kidnap everyone who is in the dojang, Abbie’s sense of honor and her fighting spirit are a bastion of strength to her uncle as he tries to keep everyone together. Loss of home and family, loss of freedom—loss of a future are all shown with sensitivity.

I like the way Lee French takes a character from confused and powerless to strong and competent, through believable events. Abbie’s reactions are true, and her interactions with her sister, her friends, and her uncle are realistic.

This is how it would unfold, if such a thing did happen.

I want my grandchildren to read stories of bravery, of strong women and men.

I want them to think about ALL aspects of equality.

I want them to ask questions about what sentience might be, and what constitutes the quality we call “humanity.”

I want them to see opportunities for small heroisms as well as the large.

With this book, the Harper Revolution series has fulfilled all those requirements, and more. Defiance is a fitting prequel for this series.

You can find Defiance in the limited edition collection of fantasy and science fiction books, Rogue Skies, available now for .99 cents. When you buy this set, you get 20+ speculative fiction books on your eReader of choice. Twenty books for .99!

That’s a screaming deal. My understanding is this price won’t last. I bought the set for Defiance, but I’m finding much gold in this mine.

Buy Rogue Skies on:
Amazon
Nook
iBooks
Others

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#PNWA2019 Conference Ramblings #amwriting

Those of you who regularly follow my ramblings may have noticed you received a “bonus” post yesterday. I was in the process of scheduling the post for today but hit the publish button before I set the calendar.

Oops.

Anyway, for those of you who are just happening by, the post is called Employing Polarity, and it deals with Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica.

Or not. What I was riffing on yesterday is the use of opposites and contrast in your narrative. Check it out if you’re in the mood for writing craft.

So why was I so punch-drunk I misposted my post? The blurry photo at the top left shows my little piece of turf, and I wish I had thought to show my neighbor’s booths. They were amazing compared to my offering.

I just spent four jam-packed days in Seattle at the PNWA Writers’ Conference. My goodness, what a fun, educational experience it was.

I also had the honor of being the moderator for award-winning narrator, Brian Callanan’s seminar, Audiobooks: A New Chapter for Writers. Wow! Did I learn some stuff about the process or what!

Cat Rambo had some excellent words on world-building, of course, in her seminar The Realistic Fantastic. That woman has a real way with words, and trust me – if you get a chance to attend one of her seminars, you are in for a treat.

An author I was unfamiliar with prior to the conference, but who is now on my “Never Miss This Show” list is Romance author Damon Suede. What he had to say about Verbs was not only extremely hilarious, it was a look at action words from an angle I hadn’t considered—that of a person who writes screenplays.

Anyone who has ever heard Chris (C.C.) Humphreys speak knows what a hilarious and informative speaker he is. I’ve never enjoyed gagging down terrible food so much in my life as I did that final buffet breakfast on Sunday morning.

And last of all, thanks to the kind intervention of Indie author Ellen King Rice, who had a spare Square device that would fit my new phone, Grandma sold a few books.

I met a lot of old friends, made a great many more new friends, and on Sunday afternoon, after four days of partying like a rock star, Grandma was too tired to be scheduling blogposts.

Live and Learn!

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Employing polarity  #amwriting

When we have finished the first draft of our story and come back to revise it later, we find that in places, our characters seem two dimensional.

Certain passages stand out; the characters have life, intensity. Their emotions grab us, and we feel them come alive. We see them as sharply as the author intends.

In other passages, they are flat, lacking any sort of spark.

When we add contrast to the scenery – polarity – the setting comes alive. The imaginary world of the narrative becomes as real to the reader as the world of their living room.

The same is true for how we show our characters.

Word choice matters. How we phrase a passage makes an immersive experience or throws the reader out of the book.

Our goal is to make vivid sensory images for our readers.

John Keats used both polarities and similes in his work. The last stanza of To Autumn begins with this line:

“Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;”

We see one obvious polarity in that line, and one sneaky one:

  • Lives or dies is an obvious polarity.
  • Sinking implies heaviness, and he contrasted it with light wind; a less weighty, gentler sensory experience opposite the weight of sinking.

Characters grow more distinct when portrayed with subtle contrasts. We all know opposites attract; it’s a fundamental law of physics. Contrast – polarity – supplies a needed missing component of the narrative, giving the important elements strength.

Polarity gives your theme dimension. Remember, the theme is the backbone of your story, the thread that binds the disparate parts together. Great themes are often polarized: good vs. evil or love vs. hate.

Think about the theme we call the circle of life. This epic concept explores birth, growth, degeneration, and death. Within that larger motif, we find subthemes. For example, young vs. old is a common polarity with many opportunities for conflict. Both sides of this age-old conflict tend to be arrogant and sure of their position in each skirmish.

Wealth vs. poverty offers an author the opportunity to delve into social issues and inequities. This polarity has great potential for conflict, which creates a deeper narrative.

What we must see beyond the obvious are the smaller, more subtle polarities we can instill into our work. Small, nearly subliminal conflicts support the main theme and add texture to the narrative.

  • Without injustice, there is no need for justice. Justice only exists because of injustice.
  • The absence of pain, emotional or physical, is only understood when someone has suffered pain. Until we have felt severe pain, we don’t even think about the lack of it. In literature, emotional pain can be a thread adding dimension to an otherwise stale relationship.
  • Truth and falsehood. The fundamental issue of trust adds drama to a plot and provides a logical way to underscore a larger theme.

Throughout the narrative, ease should be contrasted with difficulty. This is called pacing.

Many commonly used words have opposites, such as the word attractive, the opposite of which is repulsive. When you want to add texture to your narrative, look at how you could show the mood and the emotions of a scene by using antonyms, words with contrasting meanings.

  • create – destroy
  • crooked – straight/honorable
  • cruel – kind

Each polarity has many nuances. In daily life, cowardice is most often exhibited as a subtle, habitual evasion of the truth or as an avoidance mechanism. It can be shown in an act as mild as a fib. Or, it can be an event as large as an act of treason committed for personal gain.

Bravery can be as small as a person facing a silly fear, as large as a person not backing down when a strong personality attempts to assert authority over them, or as epic as a responder entering a burning building to rescue a victim.

When we have characters who contrast subtle acts of bravery with small acts of cowardice we add power to a scene.

In all its many forms, contrast is a catalyst for change when we wish to electrify an otherwise bland scene.

It’s the fertile soil from which conflict grows. Each small polarity pushes your characters a bit further and underscores your larger theme.

Here is a sample of words found in the “D” section of  the  Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms. This small selection is filled with opposites that create powerful mental images:

  • dangerous – safe
  • dark – light
  • decline – accept
  • deep – shallow
  • definite – indefinite
  • demand – supply
  • despair – hope
  • discourage – encourage
  • dreary – cheerful
  • dull – bright, shiny
  • dusk – dawn

Every time you employ polarities in your word selections, you show something about the world or a character without having to tell it.

You add a dimension of depth.

I love and regularly use the Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms to spur my creativity. It can be purchased in paperback, so it’s not too expensive. Often you can find these sorts of reference books second hand. The internet is also your friend. A large, comprehensive list of common antonyms can be found at Enchanted Learning. This website is a free resource.

Opposites add dimension and rhythm to our work. Polarity is an essential tool of world building.

Polarities, words that show contrast add dimension to an otherwise flat depiction, showing a written world that is as clear to the reader as the room they inhabit.

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#FineArtFriday: The Chess Game, by Sofonisba Anguissola ca. 1555

Title: The Chess Game (Portrait of the artist’s sisters playing chess)

Artist: Sofonisba Anguissola

Date: 1555

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 72 cm (28.3 ″) Width: 97 cm (38.1 ″)

 

What I love about this painting:

The colors are vibrant,

Because it is a game of war and strategies for winning a war, chess has historically been considered a predominantly male game. That Anguissola’s sisters are playing it at so young an age is a testimony to the atmosphere of education surrounding the home.

Their features are modern in the way they are shown with a roundness that is unusual in early renaissance portraits, which were often so highly formal that they were visually flat. These girls could be my granddaughters.

Anguissola has captured the emotions and happiness of a family at play. Her sisters’ personalities are clearly shown. The older sister has taken a pawn, the younger fears she might lose the game to a more experienced player. The youngest is enjoying the game immensely, seeing the sister who sometimes bosses her around being handed her own medicine.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Sofonisba Anguissola (c. 1532 – 16 November 1625), also known as Sophonisba Angussola or Anguisciola, was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Cremona to a relatively poor noble family. She received a well-rounded education, that included the fine arts, and her apprenticeship with local painters set a precedent for women to be accepted as students of art. As a young woman, Anguissola traveled to Rome where she was introduced to Michelangelo, who immediately recognized her talent, and to Milan, where she painted the Duke of Alba. The Spanish queen, Elizabeth of Valois, was a keen amateur painter and in 1559 Anguissola was recruited to go to Madrid as her tutor, with the rank of lady-in-waiting. She later became an official court painter to the king, Philip II, and adapted her style to the more formal requirements of official portraits for the Spanish court. After the queen’s death, Philip helped arrange an aristocratic marriage for her. She moved to Sicily, and later Pisa and Genoa, where she continued to practice as a leading portrait painter.

On 12 July 1624, Anguissola was visited by the young Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, who recorded sketches from his visit to her in his sketchbook.[25] Van Dyck, who believed her to be 96 years of age (she was actually about 92) noted that although “her eyesight was weakened”, Anguissola was still mentally alert.[24] Excerpts of the advice she gave him about painting survive from this visit,[26] and he was said to have claimed that their conversation taught him more about the “true principles” of painting than anything else in his life.[1][2] Van Dyck drew her portrait while visiting her.

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

Although Anguissola enjoyed significantly more encouragement and support than the average woman of her day, her social class did not allow her to transcend the constraints of her sex. Without the possibility of studying anatomy or drawing from life (it was considered unacceptable for a lady to view nudes), she could not undertake the complex multi-figure compositions required for large-scale religious or history paintings.

Instead, she experimented with new styles of portraiture, setting subjects informally. Self-portraits and family members were her most frequent subjects, as seen in such paintings as Self-Portrait (1554, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna), Portrait of Amilcare, Minerva and Asdrubale Anguissola (c. 1557–1558, Nivaagaards Malerisambling, Niva, Denmark), and her most famous picture, The Chess Game (1555, Muzeum Narodowe, Poznań), which depicted her sisters Lucia, Minerva and Europa.

Painted when Sofonisba was 23 years old, The Chess Game is an intimate representation of an everyday family scene, combining elaborate formal clothing with very informal facial expressions, which was unusual for Italian art at this time. The Chess Game explored a new kind of genre painting which places her sitters in a domestic setting instead of the formal or allegorical settings that were popular at the time.[17] This painting has been regarded as a conversation piece, which is an informal portrait of a group engaging in lively conversation or some activity .


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:The Chess Game – Sofonisba Anguissola.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:The_Chess_Game_-_Sofonisba_Anguissola.jpg&oldid=359367567 (accessed September 12, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Sofonisba Anguissola,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sofonisba_Anguissola&oldid=908120352 (accessed September 12, 2019).

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